Charles Mabika, Special Correspondent
HARARE – He (Steve Kwashi) was the coach who ended CAPS United’s agonising wait in reclaiming the league title for almost two decades when he led a swashbuckling side that won almost everything on offer on the domestic football front in 1996.
And he called himself “The Dude” because he was a suave character who was also very attentive to and concerned about accuracy and detail on the pitch both as a player and later in his life as a coach.
He would jokingly walk with a swagger at a post-match celebration and boldly claim in that inimitable thin voice: “I am The Dude because I demand perfection and style from my charges during a match.”
And we were all sold on that nickname for Steve Kwashi, the former exciting right winger and later shrewd mentor who passed away on Monday morning at his home in Harare. He was 67.
Up until his death, he had struggled to get back to his usual healthy and active life following a horrible car accident back in March 2001 when CAPS United were on their way back from a league match against Hwange at the Colliery.
After having cut his teeth at Bulawayo giants Zimbabwe Saints junior ranks in 1969, he on went to play at Salisbury Sables, Dynamos and BAT Ramblers but it was at “Chauya Chikwata” whom he rejoined from Sables in the mid-70s where he had his most devastating outings.
Down that right flank, Kwashi tantalised his markers with dashing velocity and an amazing turn of direction and trickery before laying on fine crosses for forwards like Chita “Black Mamba” Antonio, Douglas Maneto, Andrew “Mai Maria” Kadengu, Thomas Chipembere, Itai Chieza, Ebson “Sugar” Mguyo and Wilto van Rensburg.
When Zimbabwe Saints were hammered by Dynamos 8-0 in the 1976 Castle Cup final at Rufaro, it wasn’t the victors’ playmaker George “Mastermind” Shaya who had created five of the goals and scored one himself who was the talking point after the match.
Instead it was “The Dude” who had toiled in a one-man Trojan effort all over the pitch against his team’s merciless opponents in a losing battle that would have turned out differently had Saints been made up of 11 Steve Kwashis.
After he prematurely hung up his boots following a knee injury playing for Division One side BAT Ramblers in 1984, Kwashi gradually ventured into coaching and had a stint at Air Zimbabwe Jets before joining Blue Line Aces in 1987 where he announced his glittering abilities as a coach.
He won the “Super League Coach of the Year” in 1988 and 1989 where he produced a star-studded side that included the likes of ‘keepers Peter “Chops” Fanwell and Emmanuel “Shumba” Nyahuma, Charles “Star Black” Kaseke, Mike “Dread” Madzivanyika, Francis “Gazza”, Jeyimani”, Thomas “Monkee” Muchanyarei, Stanley “Jaws” Mashezha, Percy “Master” Mwase and his own brother Kenneth Kwashi . . . One of those players whom he mentored at Aces, midfielder Madzivanyika, was devastated at the news of Kwashi’s death.
“The game has been robbed of one of the greatest coaches I ever knew. The Dude was the one who gave me my first taste of first team football at Aces back in the early 90s. And for sure, he always preached the gospel of detail, perfection and accuracy at training. I will forever cherish his guidance and wisdom,” he said.
The Dude’s methodical and attractive style of coaching at Blue Line Aces (who later went back to their original name of Black Aces) was too tempting for CAPS United who lured him to the club in 1995.
Makepekepe had last won the league title back in 1979 under the tutelage of Ashton “Papa” Nyazika and had continued to be tormented by their city rivals’ fans at Dynamos who seemed to have made winning the league title their every season’s menu.
In 1996, The Dude set upon his task with his self-proclaimed attention to detail, accuracy and perfection as he assembled a galaxy of skilful and entertaining players who were just a marvel to watch on the pitch. That exciting array included the likes of ‘keeper George “Darling” Mudiwa and Abdul “Duly” Karim, Mpumelelo “Era Muna” Dzowa, Dumisani “Commando” Mpofu, skipper Silver “Bhonzo” Chigwenje, Frank “Dealer” Nyamukuta, Lloyd “Lodza” Chitembwe, Joe “Kode” Mugabe, Farai “Mr Perfect” Mbidzo, Blessing “Yogo Yogo” Makunike, Morgan “Mogiza” Nkathazo, Stewart “Shutto” Murisa, Alois “Criss Cross” Bunjira and Kwashi’s son, Tostao.
The Green Machine burst into life with The Dude as its Chief Operating artisan and all opposition — including their Enemy No. 1 Dynamos — succumbed to its sheer velocity.
The league title was reclaimed at the end of that season after an agonising wait of 17 years, together with the Charity Shield, Independence Cup, Heroes Cup and a ticket into the prestigious African Champions League.
But five years after all this resounding success, The Dude’s remarkable journey with his beloved Makepekepe would be horribly halted during one fateful night along the Harare-Bulawayo road en route to the capital after the driver lost control in the heat of the night and the vehicle rolled several times as it hurtled into the dense forest off the road.
Kwashi, who was a passenger in the car, suffered internal injuries that would scar him for the rest of his life and he never returned onto a soccer pitch to coach again.
The terrible news of this accident has never disappeared from many Makepekepe fans’ memories who, up to this day, are adamant that their side would have defended that league crown which ironically streamed back to their arch-rivals DeMbare.
One of that 1996 season’s success stories, Murisa was also saddened by Kwashi’s death. “I have never had an exciting and enjoyable season in my whole career like the one I had with Kwashi during his leadership those years. We were a solid unit that was well oiled by his astute direction.
It’s so sad that he’s gone,” said Shutto. The Dude’s son Tostao, still visibly shaken by his father’s and mentor’s death, recalled how his dad had patiently infused him into the side’s first team squad whilst still at Prince Edward High School.
“He taught me all the tricks that I later employed along the right wing as I also made that foray my favourite. He will always be the greatest thing that happened in my soccer life. He’s also the one who encouraged me to take up coaching after my playing days were up. I will always love you The Dude,” he said as he tried painfully to hold back the tears.
As The Dude fought hard in his rehabilitation exercise that included strong support from his family and daily morning walks in his neighbourhood, the club slowly edged back into mediocrity with some of its star players moving to other teams.
CAPS United would have to wait for another decade to win the league title again under a new coach Charles “The Lecturer” Mhlauri.
Two decades had passed since that fateful night of the accident when Kwashi waved goodbye to us all as he eventually lost his battle and hope to continue leading the team where he created a lineup that is regarded by many as the finest ever to put on the green jersey of CAPS United.
Although he failed to regain his healthy active lifestyle, football would continue to be his mainstay as he followed Makepekepe’s exploits and his other favourite national team, the Selecao of Brazil.
He would always find time to refer to the 1970 Brazilian squad that won the World Cup final after they thrashed Italy 4-1 in Mexico and would recount almost every match detail they played at that tournament.
Infact, The Dude named his son Tostao (who is now assistant coach at Harare City) after one of the stars of that Brazil side that also included Pele, Edu, Gerson, Clodoaldo, Jaizinho and Rivelino. Kwashi always dubbed this legendary squad “the best football team that ever lived”.
And to many of CAPS United’s fans, Kwashi will remain the “best football coach who ever lived”.
Kwashi, who was laid to rest at Glen Forest yesterday, is survived by his wife Christine, children Farai, Shungu, Victoria, Josephine, Tostao, Ngoni and Kuda and several grandchildren.